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Citizens Union

Frozen Pay, Heated Rhetoric

 Ronald York, a consultant who travels the country to help police unions with their contract negotiations, advises his clients to avoid criticizing the other side or complaining about how unfairly they are being treated. It is clear that New York's police unions are not among his clients: The Sergeants Benevolent Associationis spending two million dollars in advertising to criticize Mayor Michael Bloomberg, starting with a full-page ad in several newspapers:

"Since we understand that you are busy planning another ‘Olympics 2012’ trip to Southeast Asia, we thought we'd clue you in on what's happening here in New York City,” says an ad headlined "An Open Letter To Mayor Bloomberg” signed by union president Ed Mullins. “Crime is on the rise in our subways and in our streets...The NYPD is facing the worst attrition crisis in its history...You say that the city can’t afford to pay the police a fair wage. That’s ridiculous...There’s plenty of money to pay a fair wage to police. You simply have chosen not to. You just approved a 7% rent increase for city landlords…Do you really think that landlords in the city deserve a bigger raise than cops?...Isn’t it about time that you started to fight as hard for your own police officers as you are for the 2012 Olympics?”

A spokesman for the Bloomberg campaign labeled the ad “a campaign of lies and inaccuracies against Mayor Bloomberg," in the Staten Island Advance.

“The negotiations of the city are very rude,” consultant York observes, politely.

Right now, actually, there are no negotiations. Arbitration hearings between city officials and the largest police union, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, began in November. The arbitration panel has been deliberating since March. A ruling for an average case would be delivered around July, a PBA spokesman said. This is not, however, an average case.

And so the police officers of New York continue to work without a contract; the 22,000 members of the PBA have been without one since 2002.

And if they never liked former Mayor Rudy Giuliani as much as the public thought they did, they certainly do not like the current mayor, and for much the same reason. The average officer was displeased with the salary increases under Giuliani, and they see Bloomberg as going one step further, slashing the department’s budget by nearly $280 million.

Union officials say the lack of salary increases is a major reason why the city's police force has shrunk by 2,400 officers since Bloomberg took office. These officers have fled to other police departments that offer higher salaries, the union says.

"It has become tougher being a New York City police officer during the Bloomberg administration because of the dangerous downsizing of the NYPD and the failure to recognize the need to pay police a competitive salary," Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, told Newsday.

New York police officers reportedly earn a starting salary of $36,878; the PBA has said that the average salary of a New York City police officer is about 10 percent less than the average salary of officers working in other large cities.

That is why, the union says, it rejected the city’s offer of a five percent salary increase spread out over three years.

The mayor counters that the city does not have the money to pay more. City officials also have asked the union to adopt cost-saving measures before they will consider pay raises.

“If the arbitrator were to give them more than the pattern [more than the other municipal unions, in other words] and there was no change in work rules that would let us generate the money, we’d just have to do it with fewer police officers,” Bloomberg reportedly said during his radio program.


One of the major cost-saving measures that city officials are requesting is an effort to reduce overtime. The city spent $237 million in fiscal year 2000 for police overtime, which was an extraordinary leap from the year before (46 percent higher than 1999). But five years later, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly testified that, by the time the current fiscal year ends in June, overtime costs this year will have totaled $426 million.

PBA spokesman Al O’Leary says that it is not just city officials who have suggested changes to officers’ schedules to address the overtime issue; the union has done so as well. “Our members count and rely on overtime, because they are paid poorly. That shouldn’t be.” The City Council has proposed reducing overtime as a way of paying for 1,000 new officers.

The issue of overtime is a prickly one. Police misuse of overtime led to departmental disciplinary charges against 11 officers last month , and the independent Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption has unsuccessfully sought to study overtime practices, rebuffed by police officials who say the commission lacks the authority to review general administrative procedures.

Leaner Force

Another group critical of police overtime practices has been the Citizens Budget Commission. The group also raised the idea that a leaner police force, rather than being a threat to the welfare of the city, might actually be more efficient. In a 2002 report , the Commission noted that New York had 625 police employees for every 100,000 people, ranking number two among large cities behind only Washington, D.C.

Crime has gone down in recent years even as fewer officers have been on the street.

Eli Silverman, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, however, noted that New York may differ from other large cities in two ways: the large tourist population, and the number of officers -- about 1,000, he said -- dedicated to anti-terrorism work.


Silverman was called on by the police union as an expert witness on police moralein 2002 during the last arbitration hearings between police and the city. Morale, he testified, was “particularly low.”

Since then, Silverman said, the feelings of police have only deepened.

O’Leary said that more money “would certainly encourage officers to stay,” but it “would have to be a very big award” to compete with other departments.

“The satisfaction with the job is almost entirely a function of economics.”

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